RAW HISTORY Darwin author and academic Dr Dino Hodge shares his own personal story of struggle in A Homosexual History of Australia’s Tropical Capital
Two and a half decades since the publication of Dr Dino Hodge’s Did You Meet Any Malagas? A Homosexual History of Australia’s
Tropical Capital and the author and academic is ready to tell his own story of struggle.
It comes at a poignant time, as the Darwin Pride Festival wraps up this weekend for 2018 — a festival Dr Hodge said he helped found in 1985 alongside Sim Lee and something that kicked off this historical project, which would eventually be published in 1993.
Dr Hodge told the NT News that there were two major events in 1985 that pushed him into this work, one being the festival and another being the rising threat of HIV.
“Up until that point (1985) the queer community in the Territory was really fragmented,” he said. “People lived lives in fear of police persecution, so they lived their lives underground. It was really important to start drawing people together. They all had good reasons to be frightened, there was persecution and there was no anti-discrimination legislation.
“The other reason was that HIV arrived and there was a huge moral panic that saw many people being badly treated and harassed. People lost their jobs, people were attacked and again, there was no protection in place.
“It was a really difficult period and I could sense that these two events were major transitions in culture and they were of historical importance, so I started collecting archival materials.
Mr Hodge said he recognised the importance of offering new insights into gay culture at that time. “When you are part of an oppressed group where the only information you get is from police reports, from people that have been charged with offences and people
who have been convicted. When that, by and large, is the only information you’d get from the public arena about your life then you had very little about which to feel proud,” he said.
“So having a sense of our identity, of our history, of the challenges that we have faced and the achievements that we have been able to make, it was really important to know where we have come from and who are heroes are from the past that stood up and challenged police or dared to open bars at a time when homosexuality was illegal.”
Did You Meet Any Malagas? is essentially a series of conversations with thirteen gay men from the NT — including a bar owner, a priest, a hustler, political activist and the first Territorian diagnosed with AIDS. It provides from a look back into the past days of World War II to what was the present struggles of 1993. Dr Hodge said he got the book’s title from one of his interviewees.
“Malaga is a local word for man and the phrase comes from an interview that I did,” he said. “He was with a group of friends and one of them went off cruising, he went out looking for company, and when he came back they all wanted to know, had he met any malagas? Had he met anybody?” Dr Hodge said at the time of publication Did
You Meet Any Malagas? was only the fourth Australian book about gay male culture.
But once he had documented the struggles of his community, Dr Hodge said that was when a whole new set of issues began.
“It was really well received here in the Territory but I had to fight to get that book out. There were challenges and I don’t want to downplay that,” he said.
“The Northern Territory History Award used to be a single award of $20,000 that was granted to an author to write a book about NT history.
“I applied for that award and my name was put forward, a CLP government minister was so outraged that he refused to issue an award that year and instead demanded that there was a review of the award system. No one got an award.”
Dr Hodge said he was also harassed by the CLP, named in parliament under parliamentary privilege and subject to a Sunday
Territorian article that had to be later retracted after he took a complaint to the Press Council of the day. “On top of all of that, all that stuff just prompted crazy people. People thought it was okay to do nasty stuff to gay people. Gay people used to get bashed and there was no point in going to the police because they were not receptive and it was just humiliating,” he said.
“All that publicity put in place the environment, the atmosphere, to encourage this man to stalk me. He wrote hateful letters to my employer, my publisher and at that point I was living in Leanyer across the road from the Hibiscus Shopping Centre. One day when I was shopping there, one day after work, he attacked me and assaulted me in the supermarket.
“I was so shaken that I ended up selling my home and I moved in with a friend and just went off the grid. I went completely underground to try to shake this stalker.
“That just demonstrates the difficulties of even trying to document the history of the queer population and the trans population. That’s me 25 years ago, that’s not that long.
“There are some very powerful reactionary elements of society that don’t want queer and trans people to have respect or be treated with respect. It’s true then and it is true today. That’s why it is really important to have books like this.”
Since then Dr Hodge said a lot has changed, and he has gone on to further build on his work — publishing a second book about indigenous LGBTQIA+ Australians in 2015 titled Colouring the Rainbow: Blak Queer and Trans Perspectives.
“In 1985, when Darwin Pride was first founded, we were illegal, we were subject to harassment, we were abused, we could be dismissed from jobs and we had no protection. Today, it’s a very different world,” he said.
“That’s why, in 1985, I knew it was important to start collecting materials. Because I knew that today’s world would eventuate and unless we documented what was happening that knowledge of history and struggle would be lost.
“The knowledge and history of our heroes would disappear. The knowledge and history of our losses, all of the people that we lost to HIV, their memories would evaporate. That wouldn’t be fair and that wouldn’t be right.”
Don Dunstan, Intimacy & Liberty is also written by former Darwin resident Dino Hodge